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12-10-07
An Interview with Michael Gira
by - Tom Gilbert

After the release of Angels of Light's We Are Him, review can be found here, I had a chance to get a few questions in with the legendary Michael Gira. From his work with sonic pioneers Swans, Angels of Light, and his label Young God Records he has been influential artist helping to shape the musical landscape.


Photo by Paule

Thank you for taking the time out to do this interview.
Thanks to you, much appreciated indeed!

I know with earlier Angels of Light albums you would write the songs with an acoustic guitar and then flesh them out. What was the writing process for We Are Him, was it similar?
All the songs are always written on acoustic guitar and need to be in a state where I could confidently perform them in a room full of sullen housewives, bankers, and moronic indie kids before I start working ‘em up with other musicians.

I've always been curious about your inspiration for songs. What is the source for some of your songs like “Black River Song” or “Good Bye Mary Lou”?
"Black River Song" sprang immediately to mind while reading a few lines from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Probably in his case it was a metaphor for the universal unconscious/subconscious mind – not to get too Joseph Campbell about it here. I thought instead of the river being thick chocolate or blood pudding.

…well, "Good Bye Mary Lou" came out real easy because I was thinking of all the horrible women that had wronged me and it’s a revenge/fuck you song to all of them compiled into one creature. It’s kind of puerile when you think about it, but as anyone that knows me could tell you, even at my age I sometimes still act like a petulant teenager.

Will you be touring in support of We Are Him?
I’ll be touring sporadically throughout the coming year. Incongruously (but should be interesting for that reason) I’m opening for the Boredoms solo/acoustic beginning mid October in Europe.

Early spring of next year I’ll be doing extensive touring with Fire On Fire and Larkin Grimm. Both have just signed to Young God. FOF are a fierce acoustic group that play something like chugging backwoods old timey psychedelic stomps, like the Mamas and Pappas with mud on their faces. Larkin is a wild itinerant self-styled She-Shaman with an incredible voice and range. FOF will be the backing band for her coming album, too. They all might join me for a few songs on my set on this tour, but mostly I’ll be solo….

With the extensive list of guests on this release, who will be playing the shows with you?
Oh no, I have made a commitment to myself to perform solo exclusively for the foreseeable future. From what I hear it’s very strong anyway like that, maybe more visceral than with several musicians on stage. I look at it like boxing, where I smash myself in the face for the benefit of the audience. In any event, it’s not “folk” by any means!

I remember reading in an earlier interview with you (after the release of Sing 'Other People') that you planned to only do one more album with Akron/Family and then you would try something else. Is this still the plan?
Yes, that’s certain. It has nothing to do with their merit as musicians however, or any personality problems or anything like that. I just think it’s important that I vary the core group of musicians I work with the work out the songs. I’m not sure, but I think the next record is going to be extremely “heavy.” But I don’t know for sure, I always change my mind. Could be it’ll end up a straight ahead bluegrass record.

Being based out of New York, what do you think brings the earthier elements into your work? I've noticed this from a number of Brooklyn bands specifically. It's something that I can't fully grasp living in an urban environment all of my life.
I’ve lived in an urban environment all my life too. In my case, after Swans, I just wanted to do something more elemental…. Maybe the general impetus is a sort of punk rock reaction (not the style of punk, but a similar impetus) to just how insipid most music has become, and it’s an attempt to get to the core of performing a song… but what the fuck do I know????

Do you think comes with maturity, that you are able to take the dark elements of your music and work them into a much subtler sound then say with your earlier work, where it was much more obvious and in your face?
I have a hard time understanding the difference between “dark” and “light” personally. There’s lots of joy in my music, always has been, and I really loathe being portrayed in the press as some sort of morose doom-meister. Fuck that. Anyway, the music’s not stupid, and it’s not fluffy… I guess I just try to make it an intensely felt experience… so I don’t know how to answer the question. I really just dive in and start working, and try not to second guess myself…

I was recently on a Swans kick and was revisiting a lot of your albums from that time. How do you look back on your Swans days? Do you still like the releases you put out there?
I don’t think about Swans much. I think much of it is excellent, and holds up, but much is also misguided, a mistake. But I always tried (still do) to put myself in new unfamiliar terrain, so that would sometimes work, and sometimes not. Anyway, I’m more interested in the future… a waste to think about the past….

Is there any unreleased Swans material left in the archives that may eventually see release?
There’s a few live things that sound fairly spectacular – maybe someday….

What bands or artists (visual and/or aural) today do you find inspire you?
Well, Fire On Fire (they are astounding good fun live) inspire me, and so does Larkin, so I decided to work with them. Other than that, if you mean contemporary rock-related music, I have to say that the most fun I’ve had listening to a CD lately has been the entire catalog of the Detroit electronic group Adult. They absolutely crack me up. I can’t get enough of it. I guess they remind me of The Screamers (late 70’s LA electro punk pioneers), but actually better, just an absolute bad hair sour hangover sonic assault. We played the same festival in Scotland recently, and I met them and we got along, so we started to correspond a bit. I’m actually thinking of asking them if they’d like to take the entire We Are Him album and do it in their style. Ha ha!

For more information visit Young God Records.

 

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